At the beginning of this week I took a road-trip up to Richmond Park in London with a fellow aspiring wildlife filmmaker to see the Red and Fallow Deer during the rutting season. There are 630 Red and Fallow Deer in the park so they are not hard to find, but with 2500 acres to roam free, they have plenty of space to graze. The deer have been able to roam freely here in what is the largest of the Royal Parks in London since 1529 and help to maintain the large public grassland through grazing.
We arrived just after sunrise having battled with school traffic just outside the park, but were able to start filming and photographing immediately in the beautiful golden morning light. I expected to find a lot of deer, but one thing I wasn't quite expecting to see... were parrots!
The Ring-Necked Parakeets have increased in numbers hugely in recent years and can be heard screeching across the park. You only have to look up to see a small company of green falcon-like birds gracing the sky with their raucous calls which are now one of the most common sounds heard across the park. I knew these colourful birds that were rumoured to have been 'accidentally' introduced to London in the 40's or 50's (some even speculate that Jimi Hendrix released a breeding pair in the 60's!) were common in some parks in London, but having deer on the mind, I had forgotten the possibility of running into these birds; I was therefore somewhat surprised and excited and neglected the real reason why I had driven two hours to Richmond Park.
I eventually tore myself away from these beautiful birds and turned my attention to the roaring stags that seemed to be echoing across the park. People are instructed to stay 50m away from the deer - especially during rutting season when the males are so focused on driving away rivals, they might not worry about knocking down someone who got in their way. It was sad to see a lot of people ignoring this strong advice and I even witnessed someone walking within a couple of metres of one large stag to fetch their disobedient dog. I was very worried that the inquisitive dog might meet the business end of a male's antler before the end of the day. Luckily the dog-walker and dog walked away safely.
That said, the deer move around so often, you often find a group or an individual has closed the 50m gap very quickly, and I found myself at one point between two rival Red Stags even where I was on the path. Needless to say I got out of there quickly - it's not something you want to be in the middle of!
The rest of the day went well and the weather held up beautifully, allowing us to gain some incredible time with these large British mammals - fingers crossed for a repeat trip soon.
(Video footage to follow!)
Red Deer are the largest land-mammal in the UK and most commonly populate the Scottish Highlands. You therefore would not expect to find these majestic creatures just two miles from Bristol City Centre. Ashton Court sits on the city outskirts, made up of around 850 acres of woodland and is residence to a large herd of Red and Fallow Deer. Deer have historically been bred for venison stock and hunting, but there are now many estates that manage deer for ecotourism as an ornamental species.
Deer do not have any predators due to top food chain species such as wolves, bears and lynx having been hunted to extinction in the UK many decades ago. For this reason, deer species are over-populated and cause big problems by over-grazing, destroying habitats for other wildlife. Deer are therefore hunted to maintain a balanced population. Of course any time that a native species is hunted, controversy follows suit. It is certainly a very difficult issue to resolve.
There are however, plans in place to reintroduce the native lynx in to the UK and already trial introductions are being held in parts of Northumberland and Scotland. Lynx are the perfect species to be reintroduced as they not only control the numbers of deer, encouraging woodlands to regrow and allowing the ecosystem to recover, but they are also very shy animals. This medium sized felid is a solitary animal; a secretive creature that will hide away in dense forestry areas. Such an elusive mammal will cause no danger to humans and will prey on deer and foxes in deep forests rather than taking sheep which are kept in open meadows in the UK.
I recently revisited an old photography and birding patch near the Welsh capital, Cardiff in the hope of finding one of the most elusive little birds. Over the years I've spotted many kingfishers in different places but never been closer enough to get a shot I was happy with. Forest Farm in Radyr is one of the best spots I've seen them so far so I started the say full of hope. Plenty of rabbits, moorhens and magpies passed through but the elusive remained elusive. As is the case with most wildlife, things only happen straight away or at the very last moment...it's typical. Just as hope was draining, a flit of blue flew right over the hide and down to the perch directly in front of my lens. All in all the colourful critter stayed for about three minutes after several hours waiting. It was worth the wait.
All childhood instincts return as you wind your way down the snaking country roads, channelled by tall hedgerows, waiting for a gap or a high place to catch a glimpse of that shimmering blue mass, lying invitingly calm in the sunshine. The sea. For me and so many others, it is a constant calling to return to the coast, to take deep breaths of salty air and hear the screech of gulls littering the sky above. Sea birds. There's something about them that intrigues me. There is so much to learn about their lives both on land and at sea and are a collective of ornithological splendour that are so often caught up in both natural and man-made disasters, therefore in great need of conservation.
It is always a pleasure to visit Skomer Island, just off the Welsh coast of Pembrokeshire. Not only for the natural beauty of the land and abundance of wildlife, but also for the feeling that your being there is, in one small way aiding the survival of some of the most charismatic sea birds Britain has to offer. Not only does the money spent on a visit go directly towards the conservation of sea bird colonies, but more interestingly still, the presence of humans, so long as they are sensible and respectful, can help deter predators; allowing Britain's most comical bird, the Puffin, a safer place to raise its young.
As you are packed like salmon onto the Dale Princess (a small price to pay for the experience to come) the excitement is well and truly in the air. A mixture of seasoned island-goers and newcomers listen half-heartedly to the standard safety warnings, whilst distracted somewhat by the surroundings. As the boat bobs along, hugging the coast, the air begins to fill with gasps, shouts and tiny black specks, jetting to and fro across the horizon. Within sight of the small jetty on Skomer the expectations are fulfilled, as puffins, razorbills and guillemot sit in their hundreds upon the shimmering sea or flicker over head with just enough time to distinguish between a bright red and yellow bill or a black one. Further out gannets can be seen, as their long pointed, black-tipped wings flash before folding away and with expert precision they pierce the surface of the sea and no doubt their breakfast too. The long climb up the cliff takes an age as newcomers and seasoned birders alike are distracted by razorbills audibly attacking intruding guillemots on the rocks and the clowns of the sea littering the grassy cliffs, popping in and out of their burrows to see what excitement this boat load has brought.